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You Season 4 Is Fatally Wounded By The Loss Of Love, And A Cameo Band-Aid Isn't Going To Fix It

The fourth season of "You" has been burning up the streaming charts on Netflix for a few weeks now. And if the astounding popularity of the serial killer-stalker saga has taught us anything, it's that the one thing viewers have been clamoring for in the era of prestige TV is a dash of sexed-up soapy trash.

Said trash has, of course, been elevated to pulpy art by way of A-list production values, and a captivating lead performance from star Penn Badgley, who brings an uneasy air of humanity to the murderous love addict at the heart of the story. Badgley's work as the charming — and coolly calculating obsessive — Joe Goldberg is a big reason the streaming masses continue to tune in to a show as genuinely dark as "You." That continues to be the case halfway through a fourth season which fronts a steadily rising body count despite the fact that Joe is mostly not the one doing the killing.

Though "You" continues to deliver as many scary moments, thrills, chills, and no-frills narrative kink as the past two seasons, even die-hard fans can agree the recent run of episodes are lacking in dramatic impact. To be honest, "You" feels like it's fully bled out these days. And that's in no small part due to the mortal loss of Love — Love Quinn, that is.

Love reigns supreme over You

Played by "The Haunting of Hill House" breakout Victoria Pedretti, Love Quinn enters Joe Goldberg's obsessive orbit during the second season of "You." Her arrival doesn't just provide a jolt of energy to the proceedings, but makes "You" feel whole in a way it never quite did during a fun, but frustratingly uneven first season. Likewise, Pedretti's very presence lends an intoxicating, easy-going classiness to the story that draws you in despite the million-and-one red flags surrounding invariably doomed coupling of Joe and Love.

That's also sort of the point as we come to learn the effortlessly charming Love is, in many ways, Joe's actual soul mate — particularly in her unflinching zeal for dispatching those who get in the way of her happiness. That being the case, much was made of Love's big reveal as a cold-blooded, manipulative killer late in the show's second season, in no small part because, much like Joe, she was so damned easy to fall for. Whether you loved or loathed said twist, it proved a narrative trump card that, once played, set the series up for a barn-burning third season which slyly let Love lead the way in both narcissistic insanity and kill count.

Pedretti's performance over that two-season stretch is one you simply cannot look away from. Unfortunately, Season 3 of "You" ends in a literal blaze of glory that sees Joe narrowly surviving Love's wrath before permanently taking her off the playing field. And "You" just doesn't feel the same without her. 

The loss of Love led to a largely ineffective tonal shift in You Season 4

Love Quinn's death was preordained, of course. Because if "You" has taught us anything, it's that love cannot survive in the emotional vacuum of a love-obsessed sociopath like Joe Goldberg. Caroline Kepnes knew that as well, and eventually killed Love off in the pages of her "You" source material, though her death goes down in dramatically different fashion in the books.

Narrative changes aside, losing Love (and thus Victoria Pedretti) was always going to leave a hole in the bruised and bloodied heart of "You." Series creatives surely knew as much, after building such the Love-centric third season arc. Still, few likely anticipated the seismic void her exit has left. Make no mistake, losing Love has sucked the air right out of the series all through the first half of Season 4. It's done so despite best efforts from "You" creatives to fully re-engage with Joe's POV by focusing more on his stalker-esque detective skills and his darkly comedic asides than his deadly amorous entanglements.

To be clear, dropping Joe unwillingly into a classic, socio-economically charged English murder mystery almost works, purely because he's always been a bit of a low-key class warrior. While watching him navigate the vapid world of England's super-rich if often a lot of fun, seeing him do so in the utter absence of love is actually kind of boring. Especially after we've spent a whole two seasons watching him tangle with Love incarnate. 

There's been a staggering lack of chemistry since Love left You

The tonal shift in Season 4 of "You" is indeed a major gamble, in no small part because it threatens to make a bonafide anti-hero of Joe Goldberg who — tragic backstory and newfound good intentions aside — is still not so far removed from the murderous, manipulative stalker we meet in Seasons 1 and 2. One can hardly blame creatives for taking such a gamble as the only other option was to simply replace Love Quinn with another romantic obsession. After the epic Love affair, merely putting another unsuspecting damsel in Joe's path would've, at best, felt redundant. At worst, that ill-advised approach would place the actor playing Joe's new fixation unfairly in the shadow of the most perfect romantic foil "You" could ever conjure up.

For proof of the fact, see Joe's central Season 4 "love" interest Kate Galvin. Played by Charlotte Ritchie, Kate is so far proving less an all-consuming, Love-replacing "you" for Joe than a sensual distraction from the season's primary game of killer cat and mouse. She's a largely forgettable distraction, too. That's in no way the fault of Ritchie, who really is quite good as the quick-witted, but underwritten Kate. The problem is more a matter of chemistry, in that Badgley had it in spades with Victoria Pedretti, and shares precious little with Ritchie. In the absence of that combustible Joe and Love kindling, Season 4 of "You" has failed to find a romantic identity. And that's kind of what makes "You" tick. 

You will never get over Love, and a cameo will only make the loss burn more

Halfway through Season 4, taking Love Quinn out of the picture is looking like a gross miscalculation indeed. As she'd become such a load-baring pillar of the narrative throughout Seasons 2 and 3, one has to wonder if "You" creatives shouldn't have tried to stretch her's and Joe's story into the new season. The creative team likely also noticed the Love-less lack of sizzle in Season 4, which no doubt led them to tease Love's return in the series' second-half trailer.

It's a thrilling tease to be certain. But from the looks of the trailer — in which Love seems to address Joe from inside his old bookstore kill chamber — Love will wisely not be resurrected from the ashes of that Season 3 finale, and instead appear as a figment of Joes twisted psyche. And such a setup means she'll probably be making little more than a cameo appearance. For the Love-starved masses, that likely won't be enough. Such a fan-serivce cameo may even prove off-putting to fans who still aren't over the loss of Love.

Season 4 of "You" proves the series isn't actually over that loss either. Cameo or not, it may never fully recover from losing a character, and an actor so singularly-suited to its world. Under the circumstancs, the return of Love Quinn is feeling less like "You" winking slyly at the return of a fan favorite than foolishly rekindling a fire that is, perhaps, best left burned out.